The Tampa Bay Lightning were absolutely unstoppable during the NHL regular season as the finished with a record of 62-16-4 and 128 points. They ran away with the Preisdent’s Trophy beating the second place Boston Bruins and the Western Conference regulars season champion Calgary Flames by 21 points. Their playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets started as expected with Tampa opening up a 3-0 first period lead.
That’s when things stopped going as planned. The Jackets would fight back from a 3 goal deficit starting with Nick Folgino’s second period goal to make it 3-1. The wheels would come off in the third period for the Lightning–Columbus would score 3 goals on only 9 shots to take an improbable Game 1 come from behind victory. Seth Jones’ power play goal with just over 5 minutes remaining would prove to be the game winner. After taking 24 shots on goal in the first two periods the Lightning could get off only 5 in the final 20 minutes.
Tampa Bay must now regroup and refocus after their shocking Game 1 collapse. Despite a less than impressive third period the Lightning will once again go with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net facing Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky. The Lightning were solid on both ends of the ice during the regular season finishing as the NHL’s best goal scoring team and tying for the 7th best team defense. Columbus had the #10 team defense and the #12 scoring attack. The Lightning also had the best special teams during the regular season scoring on 28.2% of power play chances and killing off 85% of penalties.
After the game, Tampa’s head coach Jon Cooper suggested that the team had the wrong mindset: “Our mentality was that we wanted to outscore them tonight instead of build the lead and shut them down. Our mentality has to be to shut them down.” After a record setting season, Tampa Bay added a dubious superlative–they became the sixth team in NHL history to finish with the NHL’s best record only to lose Game 1 of the playoffs after opening up a 3+ goal lead.
Columbus is an extremely dangerous opponent. They’re solid and balanced 5 on 5 and although their power play languished during the regular season (15.4% for #28 in the NHL) they had the second best penalty kill in the league trailing the Lightning in that department by fractions. Tampa Bay did the worst thing they could possibly do–they gave a team that they had dominated in the regular season the confidence that they previously lacked. Tampa Bay won all three regular season meetings by a combined margin of 17-3. That doesn’t matter now–what matters is that they lost Game 1 4-3. There’s a good chance that Tampa Bay comes back to win and tie the series but the price on the game is ridiculous. We’ll take the big underdog price on the Jackets and look for a tighter defensive effort from both teams to keep the game Under the total.